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Religious order plans to tear down its prominent Jamaica Plain monastery, sell it to a developer for townhouses

Poor Clare Nuns

The monastery (from Landmarks Commission filing).

The Poor Sisters of St. Clare plan to tear down their Franciscan Monastery at 920 Centre St., next to the Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and then sell the vacant land to a developer for construction of 26 townhouses.

The order says it can no longer afford the upkeep on the 1930s cloistered facility and that they are down to just ten nuns living there. And they say tearing down the monastery is part of their religious practice.

In a demolition form filed with the Boston Landmarks Commission , required for the demolition of any Boston building more than 50 years old, the order says that because the monastery was intended as a place for a contemplative, inward life - few people are allowed inside the inner sanctum - that once they are gone from the site, they wish to erase any signs of their presence at the location.

"They believe this to be the destiny of their history at the location," the application states.

Just in case, however, the sisters also warn the landmark commission it better not try to delay or stop the project, because they have the First Amendment on their side.

The Sisters assert that under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (free exercise of religion clause) and Article 2 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (religious freedom) they have a constitutional right to demolish the property following any 90-day delay period imposed by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Additionally, they assert that their US and Massachusetts Constitutional right supersede the authority of the BLC to prohibit the demolition.

With the money from the sale, the order will build or buy a smaller property nearby for the remaining ten sisters to live in.

The application does not say what will happen to the basement burial crypt that is used as a final resting places for deceased sisters.

Once they raze the entire site, the buildings on which went up in the 1930s, they will sell the land to Holland Properties, which wants to put up 20 units in 10 duplexes and 6 units in two triplexes. Unlike the sisters, Holland has no First Amendment rights and would have to win approval from the BPDA and, depending on the zoning on the land, from the zoning board before they could begin construction.

City assessors value the 2.8-acre site at $9 million, although as a religious institution, the sisters do not have to pay taxes on it.

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Comments

Might convince the developer to tear down the building for free.

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Voting closed 36

Wow.
For some reason, I thought they already had some sort of agreement in place with MIT or the Arboretum.
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guess not
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EDIT:
Ooops. Harvard, not MIT. Got my overblown Cambridge junior colleges mixed up.

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Voting closed 23

There were houses along Centre Street well before the Arboretum was established.

The Poor Clare's was an estate before Harvard bought up the land close to the Arborway to expand their holdings. Harvard never owned this lot.

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Voting closed 20

from the City of Boston. Their website explains how this happened. The Arboretum manages the property. There are a couple of parcels adjacent to the Arboretum owned by Harvard and not the City. e.g. the Levintritt Garden and the Dana Greenhouse. This is because, as you note, property and houses along Centre St. predate the Arboretum.

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Voting closed 37

Anyone know the deal with the abandoned house on Centre Street across from Westchester Road? Who owns it? https://goo.gl/maps/NhUWM783ZCZmDnRD6 Talk about wasting land that could be used for housing...

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It is zoned CPS where 4 townhouses can be built per acre as of right. That would mean 11 but let's say 12 homes. According to the application the developer is proposing 26 as noted by Adam. Lots of hoops to jump through here.

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26 townhouses at 1,500 SF each will almost match the GBA there now.

Smaller houses than 1,500 SF will actually mean a reduction in the living space there now.

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Do you think it is likely that Holland will build modest (in today's luxury market) units? New area units have been much larger.

26 households have a greater footprint than a cloister.

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Why would any part of the City of Boston be zoned for a quarter acre per unit?

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Lots of hoops to jump through here

The Ents from the Arboretum are going to be a force to be reckoned with at the ZBA meeting.

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15 minute walk to Forest Hills with a bus stop right in front of it. You can fit a lot more than 26 properties in there.

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Voting closed 23

That bus runs like once an hour. Shit-minimum transit is not really transit.

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No service on Sunday either.

Saturday service is the same in that area of JP but the far-end in West Roxbury skips the last leg to Wren Street and instead diverts at the police station and runs Center Street following the 37 route to Vermont and Baker.

The number of potential riders from such a development would not be enough for the MBTA to add service to accommodate such.

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How did they decide that a few random routes don't run on Sundays? I'm sure there are other routes which run 7 days a week which carry about the same number of people.

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Yes! And this very infrequent route services Faulkner Hospital - which is why I never choose that hospital.

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WALK to Forest Hills? Take a BUS! Ha ha ha ha.

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Shock of shocks that this zoning is absurdly restrictive and NIMBY here. Not that I want the building gone, would rather see it reused. But that lack of density is ridiculous for a site that close to Forest Hills. 'Everyone Is Welcome Here' as long as they are wealthy enough to purchase a million dollar-plus townhouse. That's the prevalent attitude in large swaths of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.

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if the Arboretum could buy the land and extend their property to include more beautiful trees and greenspace. Harvard has the money. Win-win!

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Harvard does not actually own the Arboretum any more- it was bequeathed to the university by the Arnold estate, but then the land was deeded to the City of Boston. They then leased it back to Harvard for a thousand years (no joke) and they manage it. They sort of split up responsibility for its care. It seems Boston would be the one to expand the Arboretum.

For the sisters, it seems they could do better selling it to developers than to the City of Boston.

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At $9 million for 10 aging sisters where is their vow of poverty

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Whatever the sale price is, it will be less the demo/cleanup costs, and buying an appropriate replacement house.
Whatever is left over is for them to live on - for years. They're cloistered contemplatives - they don't have jobs, they don't have pensions. They're aging - they'll have health care costs like the rest of us.

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Voting closed 50

Par for the course.

These nuns, who choose a life of contemplation (crap if they were Buddhist, no one here would dare question their motives, because aren't they nice), decide to do what's best for their future as an organization, and these people rain down hate.

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When the anti gay marriage referendum reared its ugly head a bunch of years ago every single nun there voted against it, which was their right. These nuns appear to be in both sides of the hate rain.

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More stereotyping. You have proved my point. More bigotry.

A few of the nuns who taught me were lesbians. Many, many sweet nurturing people and yes, there were one or two tough cookies.

Two of my teachers even visited my grandparents in Ireland. I got in touch with one of them a few years back. She was retired and doing great.

But, yes "Every Single Nun". Glad to see you were in the voting booth that day looking over shoulders. You prejudiced arse.

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I’m not stereotyping your precious homophobic sisters. One can actually look up how individuals voted on the referendum.

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You can see how people voted?

Please enlighten us on how you have individual results of a vote which was never taken.

PS - You are a bigot.

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One can actually look up how individuals voted on the referendum.

What "referendum", and how and where are you looking up "how individuals voted"? Show receipts.

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When the anti gay marriage referendum reared its ugly head a bunch of years ago every single nun there voted against it

So, they voted against an anti-same sex marriage referendum*? Are you sure that's what you meant to say?

*There never was any "anti gay marriage referendum", nothing that ever came to a popular vote. The closest was a signature drive to hold a constitutional convention, the goal of which (in the view of the petition originators) was to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. It is possible that these nuns signed that petition, also possible that they refused to sign it (it's unclear which side you think they came down on or what "These nuns appear to be in both sides of the hate rain" even means), but those aren't votes, it wasn't a "referendum", and how would you know if they signed the petitions or not?

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What should they do with the property? Give it to a developer for free?

I'm no expert on Catholic vows of poverty, but I'd expect it to mean they should sell it at market rate and donate the money to a charitable cause.

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I don't know this order, but American Catholic nuns are an aging and declining population at this point, and have been for years. Young women haven't been joining in significant numbers for decades. Meanwhile, my impression is that the church is willing to receive from these orders in the form of labor, funds, whatever...but doesn't have any obligation to care for them when they are old. Their sisters do that. These "10 aging sisters" will go to another house of their order where they and others will be cared for by other sisters who are aging themselves -- they won't be cruising the Bahamas. This money will allow them to live in a modest but secure circumstances in their chosen community for their remaining years.

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Has it occurred to you that maybe the value of the real estate could be conflicting with their values (along with it not being suited for modern needs of the order).

Think about it - if your vocation demands that you serve the poor and take a vow of poverty, owning such a massively valuable asset is probably a matter of concern when the resources could be redirected to a more suitable residence elsewhere with money left for good works.

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Definitely better to increase the land area of the Arboretum by less than 1% then for 26 families to have a home.

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We could build a skyscraper on half the Public Garden -- there'd still be the other half, and the Common, and 100s of families could live there. We could build on the Esplanade -- maybe pre-fab trailers since they don't weigh very much. We could even retrofit the Hatch Shell to housing. Soccer fields constitute a tiny fraction of the parks and open space or recreational space in Boston. Let's convert them all to mid-rise housing!

Arguing that we shouldn't have more usable parks and open space in an urban environment is, in fact, anti-housing. Folks living in dense areas also need outdoor space. You can be YIMBY and pro-parks.

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Voting closed 25

If this was in the middle of Uphams Corner or something, sure but this is attached to an enormous, beautifully maintained park.

I really don't buy any argument that this part of JP is in any measurable way underserved by a lack of park space. Soccer/baseball fields, yes but not open park space.

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Voting closed 23

In all of those examples, unlike here, there is no existing housing, which there is on this site. Building housing does not take away any of the existing park space for the Arboretum, since this isn't currently part of it. Unlike any of your plans to build on the Public Garden, Hatch Shell, Common, etc - all of which, btw, have had a ton of much denser housing built around them than proposed here.

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Voting closed 13

It took 38 minutes for someone to say a park is needed over housing (on an under 3 acre site) when the JP has an embarrassment of open space (just the Arboretum is over 210 acres) as compared to the rest of the city. I'm not even counting Franklin Park, the cemeteries (which are really open space), and nearby Larz Anderson park.

More people who moved to the city from the suburbs want more suburbanization of the city.

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Voting closed 49

A park here is more suburban? Townhouses with driveways hanging off as a stub on a main artery sure sounds suburban to me, and it will be ugly and soulless compared to the monastery.

I'm all for building up and creating dense city blocks but this is a weird spot for it.

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What is the Adams Nervine Asylum two properties over?

Just the same thing, only a 1980's conversion into residential uses with some then new construction.

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You're within easy walking distance to Centre Street shops, easy biking distance (or a longer but nice walk through the Arboretum) to the T, and right along several convenient bus routes. This is a great place to build up some density.

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No connectivity to the local roads aside from the auto sewer in front of it. This isn't exactly right around the corner from Center St. It's far enough away and isolated enough to make it highly probable the residents will rely on a car to get around

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So, Centre Street doesn't count as a road, because the property is on Centre Street? There's a fair number of people living on that local road. As for connectivity, that's a different issue, but I've walked by this place enough times to say that it is no more on an island than the Arboretum is.

Boston needs housing. No reason why housing can't go up at this (checks notes) residential property. I would only gripe if the plan is a high rise like over the other side of Jamaica Pond.

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JP keeps trying to get a dog park. This would be a perfect space! (Sorta kidding but not really.) Not close to many houses, near the rotary and the arboretum.

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city life better -- they are highly utilized. John, why don't you focus on building apartments and condos in Marshfield? And what's with the assumptions that city residents promoting greenspace moved from the suburbs? Some projection going on here.

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The majority of people who live in JP aren't from JP.

Guess what, the bobo content of JP when I was a kid could fit into the men's room at JP Licks.

When I lived in the South End a bunch of blow ins demanded more parks. More parks in an area which had been developed in the 1850's. Dingbats.

There are established land use patterns in areas which engender the type of development that should go there. A three decker equates to 1 living unit per roughly 1,700 square feet of land. If you repeat the density of what is across the street from the Arboretum along the Arborway onto the Poor Claire's site, you would get 73+ units. The proposal here is for a lot less density.

JP has nearly 1,000 acres of park in it or near it. There is greenspace. A lot of it.

You just have the attitude that you have your living space, now no one else can.

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Voting closed 24

The majority of people who live in JP aren't from JP.

On the contrary, 100% of the people who live in JP are from JP.

The minute you move there, your voice in public policy matters and your role in shaping the culture of the neighborhood are just as valid as anyone else’s.

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That's what move ins do. They want to think they are in Hingham or Medfield so they can feel comfortable with how they were raised.

It is like the Land Bank in Nantucket knocking down waterfront houses so Daytripping Marge can sit on a bench in the new "park" and look at the water before she buys a t-shirt and gets back on the boat.

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That's what move ins do. They want to think they are in Hingham or Medfield so they can feel comfortable with how they were raised.

It is like the Land Bank in Nantucket knocking down waterfront houses so Daytripping Marge can sit on a bench in the new "park" and look at the water before she buys a t-shirt and gets back on the boat.

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… to the wastefulness and environmental impact of tearing down a building for religious reasons that is possibly well suited to conversion to affordable housing for other poor folk.
The Poor Clare’s, what’s left of them, will be rolling in cash whoever they sell to. Do they consider how that may affect their chances of entering the gates of heaven?

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A disgusting and cynical misuse of the first amendment. They ought to be ashamed.

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I liked your comment by accident. If there is a way to unlike I am not savvy enough to do that.

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Sense of humor goes a long way.

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An idealistic friend of mine sincerely interested in their order was allowed to attend a Sunday service there. She did not have a good experience. They pressured her for a donation which she didn’t give because she found them mean spirited and the service oppressive.

She didn’t mention the burial crypt.

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are open to the public. The chapel is on the left as you look at the building.

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The generations of kids beaten by nuns would agree with that description.

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Was Never Beaten. You Are A Bigot.

Stereotype much?

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But plenty in Massachusetts did. Especially if you were left handed and they caught you writing with your good hand.

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These are cloistered contemplatives. They hardly go out, they don't mix much, they don't run schools, they don't run orphanages.
Please direct your dated stereotypes at halfway-plausible candidates.

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About as far as from Spokeboy's ugly, disgusting piggish stereotype as you can get.

Seek help for your prejudices you worm.

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They are actively homophobic. I’d say they’re are about as close to the catholic stereotype as one can get.

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How stupid you are. Amazingly stupid. Beyond stupid. Gone into plaid stupid.

Hater.

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Sunday 'service'? Mass.
"Oppressive" service? I've attended Mass there. Perhaps tending towards plain, but "oppressive"? Sure it wasn't Office or Liturgy of the Hours or something? Or silent prayer time?
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Anyway... I've been in the public side of the chapel (one greeter sister would unlock the street doors, and sit among the visitors. The other sisters stay in the other half of the chapel, behind the cloister bars) and down in a room off the basement hallway, closest to an exterior door (they used to have their Christmas bazaar there). Obviously haven't been in the rest of the building.
Had the impression that the building is very similar to many convent, academic, and dorm buildings of that period, with minimal updates.
Modest, functional. Might be suited to SRO. Probably would need some upgrades to meet codes.

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These ladies were always quick with a joke or to light up your smoke. God speed.

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I think the application has developer’s lawyers all over it. They probably said, don’t worry, we’ll take care of all the paperwork…
I understand the upkeep needs but surely there is a better way to repurpose this building and site?

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Lol but if they keep the existing building it'll cost more and be harder to convert to dozens of million dollar+ townhouses, AND keep the lot beautiful. Can't have that. Can't wait to see that corner full of the same fiberglass stacked-boxs duct taped over particleboard that all the new construction in this city is.

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I read somewhere that the Poor Clare nuns live a life of permanent cloister and pray to keep the world from ending. They also have a monastery in Roswell New Mexico. I would let them do what they want, with our thanks for their devotion.

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The Poor Clares keep the world from ending? I wondered who was in charge of that. It's good to know it's in good hands. However, I read on Wikipedia that St. Clare is the patron saint of television. This seems like a conflict of interest.

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I'd feel creeped out living there. Is there a shortage of nuns in Boston?

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Many less women religious than decades ago.
Many orders with their numbers shrinking - few new vocations and the rest aging.
Some religious orders consolidating regional houses for retirement and senior care.
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Some types of orders, though, are different. They are communities of place. They are in a family/tradition of vowed religious life, but it's not like some central authority will necessarily consolidate them with some other house. A local group can grow or ebb, but works out their own separate existence.

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I don't find this building to be a gem like the former 'Nervine Asylum' up the road but I'm surprised the idea of just converting this to condos wasn't the first move. They'll still get a ton of money for the property and would have a lot less opposition I think.

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There's nothing particularly noteworthy about that building. It's very plain looking and probably would need lots of rehab. I can't imagine Boston Landmarks Commission is going to fight tearing it down, but looks like the applicant just wants to preemptively handle any potential arguments to keep it intact. Guess my mom will have to get Mass cards somewhere else once it's gone!

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What galls me is that they are waving the first amendment around. It’s an ugly look.

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As Emma noted, this is not some spectacular architectural gem. It's an old, tired building that would likely cost more to renovate into something of value. What gets built is a reasonable debate, but knocking it down and building new units simply makes the most sense.

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I came here to joke that someone will have to think of all the trees and I see that half of the posts are about the Arboretum.

Satire is dead.

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Many of the people who have commented seem to have missed the sentence in the article that says "tearing down the monastery is part of their religious practice" to leave no trace behind of where they lived and prayed for almost a century. I find it maddening and sad that people feel it is OKAY to attack this group of peaceful beautiful people who have lived a life of prayer, in order to make the world a better place. It does not matter if that is not YOUR belief, it is theirs. My family has called and written to the"Poor Clare's" many times over many years whenever one of us has a sad problem or illness among our family and friends. They pray for us, email back, write letters,and always appreciate a note back telling them more about how things turned out.... some readers are blaming a few elderly women here for the problems in the entire Catholic Church....The Nuns have their problems too. As one reader said, they won't be blowing the money, they will likely take care of many elderly nuns, who the Catholic church does not necessarily take care of. The priests have a far richer retirement! Good luck to the sisters, and good for them deciding the fate of their property for themselves.

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You can write to Andover now...
https://cloisteredlife.com/directory/andover

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that because the monastery was intended as a place for a contemplative, inward life - few people are allowed inside the inner sanctum - that once they are gone from the site, they wish to erase any signs of their presence at the location.

"They believe this to be the destiny of their history at the location," the application states.

Well honies, this is a perfect opportunity for you to fulfill the destiny of your order by letting the site be used for the exact purpose it was designed. But God forbid Poor Clare to be anything less then full of mullah.

The destiny thing sounds like a viking's declaration of their gods' fate for them.

This could be a perfect site for an in city meditation and retreat center. Selling it to a developer is just a lazy way of making some bucks.

The women living here have the same right to decent housing as anyone. But claiming a 1st Amendment right to do with the property as they want is a gross abuse of privilege. As an aside the bs of religious liberty as a defense to discriminate, to put people down is part of what I consider public Evil at play. But that is an aside.

The argument concerning architecture is irrelevant. The Little Home for Wanderers was a much more interesting building but money trumped architectural value. Given that precedent we now that architectural value is pretty much nill again in this city. Considering that Boston's billionaire building raped what remained of Filenes, leaving a thin and unimpressive shell, the idea of architectural preservation in Boston is again a farce. The Bicon trashing of Yale Terrace - another example where mulla trumps quality of life.

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Well honies, this is a perfect opportunity for you to fulfill the destiny of your order by letting the site be used for the exact purpose it was designed...This could be a perfect site for an in city meditation and retreat center.

I'll bite: what "exact purpose" and "designed" by whom? The "exact purpose" of the Poor Clares isn't a general purpose "in city meditation and retreat center", it's a lot more specific and a lot less ecumenical than that. It is inward-facing, not a public-facing ministry or missionary endeavor.

Selling it to a developer is just a lazy way of making some bucks.

No, I don't think so. The "lazy" way would be to continue to occupy the building as it is now. Selling the building allows them to consolidate and pursue their mission, which is a life of prayer and contemplation, in a more thrifty fashion.

The argument concerning architecture is irrelevant.

It's relevant to the disposition of the building once it's sold.

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Bless your hearts…

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Gees, first the nuns can't afford their building and now you're stealing their one job? SMH...

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Having been a grateful neighbor of the Poor Clares Monastery for 39 years, I have come to appreciate their contributions to our community. First of all, they are a contemplative order of Roman Catholic Nuns. They pray for us to know and receive the love of God. They have prayed for me (and maybe you?) in times of illness or a close one's death. They pray for our nation and world. They vote. They make the breads that are turned into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ at Parish Masses. They make Church vestments, ceramic statues and artistic items. They host daily Masses in the community.
Who would deny them their best lives moving forward? Why not let them move to a place which will fit them better? These holy people have been living in a decaying mansion that does not meet the needs of their aging community. They are good and prayerful women who only want to serve God and their Church and community. I'll miss them, but I don't want to see.them struggling to survive in their crumbling home.

Thank you dear Sisters for your contributions to all of us over your years in Jamaica Plain. We hope you stay in JP, but wherever you go may you walk with the Lord in prayerful peace and good health.

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